Both political enthusiasts, we found it frustrating that there was no easy way to browse the federal budget, and even if you looked at the numbers it was hard to relate to spending because it’s in “billions” and “trillions” of dollars.
We believe that the disconnect between the people and where their tax money is being spent has contributed to:
Increased inefficiencies in government spending
Increased influence of special interests
Decreased political participation by citizens
Our website allows you to easily browse the federal budget and see where the amount of money you contribute through taxes is being spent. Our goal is to make government spending more understandable so that our citizens can be better informed.
You and I are being psychologically disconnected from our government. This happens through language, education, and both the application and complexity of our tax system. As we’ve been disconnected, special interests have gained increasing influence in our place and government has become increasingly inefficient with the reduction of our attention.
It is, however, possible to close the psychological gap that exists, to reconnect with our government and ensure an efficient democracy. To do so, we must create a relation between our government and ourselves. One in which we can objectively see how the actions of our government relate to our direct contribution. The best way is by seeing where the money you pay in taxes is spent, down to the penny. We’re all shareholders who are personally invested in our government and our country. By understanding our contribution and role, we can make our government better for us all.
Where does our data come from?
We took the publicly available federal budget data from the Government Printing Office website and built a database model that organizes it making it easy to browse by year, spending type, bureau/agency, and function/subfunction. We then wrote a computer program (ETL) to add up account-level budget spending for each organizational and functional level by year and spending type as well as perform other calculations, such as the percent of change in spending over the previous year. Finally we built an analytics platform from the ground up to make learning easy and understandable, mixing the most commonly requested data on the screen with personalized results.
How do we know the data is accurate?
Once we finished building our database and populating it, our next step was validating our math. We randomly sampled over a hundred records at different levels, whether an account-level record or the sum of spending for an agency. This was a manual effort and took dozens of hours. Through this process we confirmed that our numbers were adding up accurately. We also have a special feedback section on our Discussion Boards for reporting any issues you may find with our data and we will quickly respond. We’re very confident in our data and we invite others to validate it!
Why data is the “new” politics
The journey of every tax dollar is often told through the political perspective of the narrator. Democrats have their story, and Republicans have theirs too. Often these stories conflict, and over time many of us find ourselves questioning what we read and hear.
It’s important for us all to be critical consumers who consider the agendas and sources of our information.
The influence of special interests raises very real concerns about the credibility of information, especially when conglomerations own media organizations. Being critical and informed citizens is our responsibility. It’s how we hold our government accountable to be the best it can be. It’s how we strengthen and improve our communities, how we lead our families, friends, and neighbors into a brighter future. That’s why the record of what we pay for, the federal budget data, is such a powerful tool.
The data is unbiased. It’s the itemized record of where our government has spent our money. Whether it was spent wisely or not is up to you. We’ve built this website for all of us to be better able to understand our government, and we strongly encourage you to be involved. The best ways are to talk with your friends, family, neighbors, and representatives regularly, to research the political issues you care about, and to always vote.
Let’s face it, our tax system is very complex. Two people could make $50,000 a year yet they could pay radically different federal tax amounts for a number of reasons, including deductions and tax loopholes. The thousands of variables that legislators use to determine ‘who pays for what’ could make calculating how much you pay for a given program (or account) impossibly time-consuming and difficult. This complexity creates a psychological disconnect between you and your government and allows special interests to flourish.
So when we calculate “My Cost”, we assume that every tax dollar the federal government receives is equal. We assume that your tax dollars and mine get pooled together into a big lump sum and are spent on the various programs and operations of the federal government. Is our tax system more complex than that? Yes, but by treating every tax dollar equally we are able to share an unbiased perspective that puts every person, every program, and every tax dollar on the same level.
Do we collect your income or filing status when you enter it?
No. Absolutely not. We feel that your privacy outweighs any value collecting that data would have.